For Charles, who is recovering from addiction in Lewiston, Maine, the community garden coordinated by St. Mary’s Nutrition Center has helped change his life—in his words, “to be happy and to grow.” St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, part of Covenant Health, established the Nutrition Center, which is located in one of Maine’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.

What began as one community garden in spring 1999 has blossomed into nine community gardens across Lewiston-Auburn, providing more than 200 low-income households an opportunity to grow food for themselves. In addition to increasing access to healthy food and using the gardens to build community and stabilize neighborhoods, St. Mary’s Nutrition Center has begun playing a convening role to “leverage capacity, talent, resources and leadership toward broader goals.” The center’s work has expanded beyond gardens to a year-round farmer’s market, regional mobile market and Healthy Neighborhoods Planning Council. 

St. Mary’s story emphasizes the impact that hospitals and health systems are having beyond their walls and in their communities, and the AHA’s Association for Community Health (ACHI) has highlighted similar stories each day during Community Health Improvement Week. You can read inspiring stories from the field and individual members, watch videos and download a host of valuable resources at www.healtycommunities.org. Check out the 2018 ACHI National Conference visual report and lightning rod presentations from health care leaders at UMass Memorial Health Care, Allina Health and Presence Health.

In addition, AHA has released a PowerPoint presentation that offers an overview of the social determinants of health—which include food, housing, transportation, violence, education, and social support—describes steps and innovative strategies that hospitals and health systems can deploy to address them, and provides helpful case examples and resources. You can use the presentation in conversations with employees, trustees and community partners.

As Community Health Improvement Week comes to a close, we know the work continues at your hospitals and health systems and in your communities to advance health and well-being for people of all ages. Stay connected to ACHI and AHA for more inspiration and resources to expand and sustain your work.